As we enter into the month of May, GAA pitch renovations will be at the forefront of Groundsmen's minds. Most clubs will have nearly finished their playing season, albeit some friendly games or cup matches may remain. You should have organised the delivery of relevant services/materials in time for these important renovations.
It is important to get the work completed as soon as you can for a number of reasons. One, importantly, is to get grass growing into the bare areas before the weeds can take advantage of these ideal seeding sites. It is also very desirable to give your seedlings as long as possible to establish and become strong.
The weather during May can be ideal for the work, with showers intermingled with sunshine and, though you may well see some periods of prolonged rain, you could equally be reaching for your hose pipes.
An early starter fertiliser can be applied now, which may typically provide for good grass recovery and help the establishment of young grass seedlings, something like a 9+7+7 would be ideal, but should be in line with your soil analysis.
Monitor the progress/success of your renovations and over sow any thin areas to ensure that you have the best opportunity for the grass to be strong with good coverage for the start of the next season.
A slow release fertiliser can be applied late in the month to take the grass through June and July.
The list of operations required for a successful basic spring renovation:
As well as these tasks you will also need to at some stage to think about weed control. At some stage you will need to consider where your weed killing programme fits into the picture of you pitch renovations.
Selective weed killers remain persistent in the ground for a number of weeks when sprayed, and this can have an adverse effect on your seedling grasses it not timed properly. It would therefore be better to spray for weeds several weeks after sowing, sometime in late June, early July.
If the list above is taken as a sequence of events, then you won't go far wrong with your renovation, though you may need to give some further attention to goal mouth and centre spot areas which will be covered later.
Scarifying: however you achieve it, you will need to clean out the surface, removing the remnants of old divots etc. and to get rid of the build up of dead organic matter accumulated over the winter months. Thatch can build up particularly on the wings of the pitch, away from the more intensively played areas in the centre and goal mouth areas. Before carrying out this task you will need to reduce the height of cut. This will not only help your grass to establish better, but will help your machinery to carry out the work without struggling.
A tractor drawn rake, followed by a box mower is probably the most traditional method, and most likely within the means of most clubs and schools. You may also have use of a pick up flail mower, in which case you may find that scarifying tines can be fitted, allowing the job to be completed in one operation. This method can be advantageous as the scarifying tines can leave a grooved surface, ideal for ensuring over sown grass seed is buried just beneath the soil surface and in contact with the soil. Whichever method you use, you will be aiming to achieve a surface that is short and clean with a finished mown height of 13mm to 20mm that will give your grass seedlings time to grow and establish without competing too much from the existing grasses.
Koroing is an operation that is becoming popular to those that can afford it (mostly Premiership clubs fall into this bracket). Koro topping is extremely efficient at removing the top organic layer of the pitch however; you will effectively be starting again with a newly sown surface so your seeding rates will need to be higher.
Spiking: Relieving compaction is important, and spiking as deeply as possible is required. There are several ways this can be achieved and to a depth of 250 - 300mm. Some clubs may have a vertidrain or Weidenmann which will carry out this work well, providing that the model is matched to the tractor size. Other aerators include an air injection system that will help to fracture compacted soils. Remember to check the depth of existing under soil drainage or soil heating before carrying out deep spiking. Pay particular attention to your goalmouth and centre spot areas, and don't forget too the off pitch areas where your linesmen and spectators stand.
Fertilising: A good pre-seeding fertiliser, typically one low in nitrogen and high in phosphorus and potash, will provide the young seedling with the essential nutrients to root quickly and to resist disease. This should be worked into the surface, brushed or drag matted in. Water in if rain is not expected.
Seeding: Obtain a good quality rye grass seed mixture for your renovation. Fresh seed is important as old seed will not germinate as greatly or as well as new. Look at the STRI list for the range of recommended cultivars, listed by fineness of cut, resistance to disease etc. and choose a mixture with the characteristics suited to your needs and situation.
Over sow at the rate of 20 to 35g/m2. Personally, I like to keep some in reserve in case I need to over sow any thin areas later on. The important thing is to get good seed to soil contact to ensure good germination. This can be achieved in a number of ways depending on the equipment you have to hand. If you have a Quadraplay for instance you could start by surface spiking, over sowing and then continue to work the seed into the surface using the surface spiking unit and brush unit.
Traverse the pitch in as many different directions as possible to work the seed into the surface (Quadraplay or not, the important thing is to get as many surface holes as possible for the seed to work its way into the surface, so a sarrel roller could complete this task equally well in combination with a brush).
The roller can be lowered on the final run to firm the surface and ensure good soil to seed contact. Alternatively the use of seed drills will help to bury the seed into the surface and at a depth where it won't be subject to drying out. This method will produce a linear seeding pattern and it is best to complete two passes or more at a slight angle to the first.
Topdressing: Chosen wisely for compatibility with your current root zone is an essential ingredient to ensuring good surface levels. If you employ the services of an agronomist then he will have advised you of the best topdressing for your situation. This may typically have been a medium to fine sand and of a quantity of 60 to 80 tons per pitch.
If you are using a general topdressing of say 70/30 you should be aware that this could have high clay content, despite the high percentage of sand, that could give you some problems later. It would be wise to ensure you know what is being supplied.
If you cannot afford to topdress you may consider hollow coring, recycling them by breaking them up and drag matting them back into the surface. If the construction of your pitch is a sand slit system then topdressing regularly with compatible sand will be required to ensure that the slits do not become capped over.
There are two main functions of topdressings here, the first being to cover the grass seed to ensure good soil to seed contact that will ensure good germination of an expensive resource i.e. seed, and secondly to restore surface levels.
Low areas in the pitch can be concentrated on. Minor dips and hollows that collect water, noted during the winter, can be further spiked. A slightly heavier topdressing spread than the surrounding area will help to raise these areas, though be careful to ensure the topdressing is worked into the holes and into the base of the sward. The topdressing should not be thick and left covering the top of the grass, as this will only lead to a weakened sward. Repeat the operation if necessary and check it with a straight edge.
Goalmouth and centre spot areas: At this time of year how much grass is still around in these areas depends on a number of factors, and is a combination of the condition of the sward at the start of the season, number of games played, the conditions that they were played in and finally the adopted post match and winter maintenance regimes. Suffice to say that the wear can range from minimal with some pitches sustaining little loss of grass in the goalmouth area to an area or strip if you like running the whole length of the pitch completely devoid of grass cover.
Some goalmouth areas may even have lost both grass cover and soil, where the soil has migrated out of the area. In these areas it is important that they receive more concentrated effort to relieve compaction and to bring the surface levels back, by importing and incorporating new material compatible to your native soil.
In some instances, you may consider turfing, though this is expensive. You will need to give the turf time to establish in order to stop it getting kicked out, unless you use thick turf.
Turf treatments: Some turf treatments work well for some and there are a number of them to choose from such as organic based micronutrients, seaweed treatments, clay flocculants, amino acids and plant growth regulators such as Primo Maxx. It can sometimes be difficult to assess the benefits of such treatments, however most managers will notice if it has been effective or not. If you are unsure, then ask your supplier for a trial amount and test it for yourself. I'm sure they would be pleased to accommodate you.
Equipment cleaning/painting and Storage: Make sure that goal posts are cleaned and painted before putting them away. The peace of mind this will generate, is worth it as there is nothing worse than rushing at the beginning of a season to get this job done when you have a thousand and one other things to do before your first game. Check for replacement nets and spare parts; order them in so they are on hand when needed.
May is the month when soils can dry out quickly, particularly as we move later into the month. Make sure that your irrigation systems are functioning, as once soils become hydrophobic and dry patch sets in, it becomes very difficult to get water back into the surface. If you follow a programme of using wetting agents to ensure a uniform wetting, this will help, particularly on soils prone to dry patch.
Dragmatting and brushing: Continue the work of brushing to keep the air circulating around the base of the plant, particularly important for removing early morning dew and controlling disease. Following a pitch renovation, suspend this operation for a period to allow for the germination of the new seedlings to take place.
Cutting: Continue cutting regularly 25 -37mm to ensure a good sward density. It may be sometimes helpful with newly sown grasses to lightly roll the surface before cutting to ensure that the weakly held grasses in the surface do not get pulled out. Also ensure that any cutting equipment used is keenly set to cut without tearing.
Monitoring the performance of your playing surfaces is a key skill that should be adopted by all Groundsman/Greenkeepers. With the aid of modern technologies, tools and a camera you can now monitor the performance and the condition of your sward in many ways.
For many years, the turf industry has promoted the use of Performance Quality Standards PQS to ascertain the standard of sport pitch maintenance.
The Performance Quality Standard (PQS) provides a recommended minimum quality standard for the finished standard of pitches. Specifically, it sets the basic standard recommended for natural grass pitches, which may be located at a variety of locations including a Club site, within a park or recreational ground.
For example the PQS for a GAA pitch recommends that a natural grass pitch must:
* Have the ability to drain water
* Have adequate grass cover
* Low level of weed coverage
* Be flat
It is important to survey and measure the performance of your facilities. With modern technologies, we can now measure all manner of aspects of the pitch/golf green or artificial pitch to ensure it meets any stated guidelines by the sports governing bodies. These can include measuring sward height, composition of grass species, soil temperature, weed content, levels over a 3m level, hardness and infiltration rates (porosity) of the soil rootzone.
In recent years, we have seen the development of GPS mapping devices that can measure chlorophyll, moisture content and deviation in levels. Soil tests will also help determine soil type, nutrient status of the soil, organic matter content, CEC capacity and soil pH.
Keeping a record of these parameters will help you have a better understanding of what is going on within your playing surface, and enable you to make better decisions on what maintenance inputs you will need to undertake to maintain surface playability.
Ideally in May, if you have not had one done before, you should have a full (PSD) Particle Size Distribution soil analysis done to tell you the actual make up of your soil profile. This enables you to get them back in time to start your new year's maintenance
Soil is made up of percentages of clay, silt and sand. The PSD Analysis will identify the ratio of these and confirm soil type, thus giving you a better understanding of what soil you are dealing with. Also, you can establish the amount of organic matter (OM) content as well as soil nutrient status and soil Ph. With this information, you will be able to identify the needs of your soil.
Pitchcare have recently launched a new independent Soil Anaylsis service that enables you to get specific results for the soils you manage. Soil analysis is a means to discover what levels of nutrients are available to plants. There is an optimum for each plant nutrient and, when coupled with other properties such as soil structure and particle sizes, determine how vigorous your plants are. Different nutrients undertake different tasks within the plant.
Weed treatment programme: Co-ordinate your weed treatment programme to ensure that when you spray, you will not damage emergent grasses in newly sown areas. Most selective weed killers will persist in the ground for up to six weeks.
Always check the label for advice about the correct time to spray. If your priority is to spray treat your weeds prior to your renovation programme, then you will need to you delay you renovations for up to six weeks. Similarly, if your priority is to complete you renovations first, then you will need to ensure that your newly sown grass is well established (referred sometimes on the label as being at the two leaf stage) before your application.
Always make an effort to keep your machinery cleaned and serviced regularly, ideally any mechanical equipment should be washed down after use.
It is important to keep your mowers sharp, checking height of cut and ensuring the cylinder and bottom blade is adjusted for a clean cut. Do not tighten blades down too hard, as this will cause problems.
Keep an eye on oil levels and air filters, cleaning them and topping up as and when required .
Ptchcare is the only provider of LANTRA accredited training courses in the maintenance of Winter Sports Pitches. It is a one day course designed to provide a basic knowledge of rugby and GAA pitch maintenance. The course enables the Groundsman to grasp the basic needs of a winter sports surface throughout a 12 month period.
Delegates attending the Winter Sports Pitch Maintenance course and using the accompanying manual will be able to develop their own skills, working knowledge and expertise, by understanding the method of instruction and the maintenance principles it sets out.
Included in the Course Manual, there are working diaries showing the range of tasks needed to be accomplished each month. The Course Manual is available for purchase separately.
In addition, we are able to arrange courses to be delivered on site to groups of 6 - 10 people. Email Chris Johnson for information.